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Do You Have 60 Seconds to Save a Sears House?

Updated!  This house is now scheduled for demolition on August 7th. Click here for the latest!!

Bowling Green State University (Toledo area) has decided to demolish a Sears House to make way for an expansion.

Please - take a moment and sign this on-line petition and cast a vote in favor of saving this Sears House. This online petition is easy to use and loads fast. This won’t take more than 60 seconds of your time.

How many early 20th Century kit homes have been swallowed up by this very type of academic expansion?

Too many to count.

I’ve already got a plethora of PHOTOS of Sears Homes that were torn down to make way for some new plasticine palace or a college expansion or a new big-box store. Too often, these “new” buildings lack the structural integrity and/or visual aesthetics to endure more than three or four decades - at best.

The Sears Lewiston that’s now standing on the BGSU campus has been there for more than 80  years. Why destroy it now?

Sears Homes are a limited edition. From 1908-1940, Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes in all 48 states. Of the 370 designs that were offered, the Sears Lewiston (the house under the wrecking ball now) was one of their finer homes.

There are alternatives to destroying this house.

If the house is in the way, then MOVE IT to another location. Sears Homes were made with first-growth lumber harvested from virgin forests. The quality of building materials in these houses is remarkable, and we’ll never see wood of this quality again. Why send all this to the landfill?

To sign a petition to save the Sears Lewiston, visit this website. http://signon.org/sign/save-the-popular-culture

This is one of those “Fun Causes” that costs you very little time and yet has the potential to yield great benefits.

Please take a moment and sign the petition that will save this house from demolition.

And please share this link with others.

Come Autumn, I really do not want to write another blog that’s titled, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Click here to read more about the Sears Lewiston.

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This is the Sears Lewiston that is slated for demolition at Bowling Green State University (Toledo). Photo is reprinted courtesy of The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.

This is the Sears Lewiston that is slated for demolition at Bowling Green State University (Toledo). Photo is reprinted courtesy of "The Blade," Toledo, Ohio.

To read the full article from The Blade, click here.

The Sears Lewiston, as it appeared in the 1930 catalog.

The Sears Lewiston, as it appeared in the 1930 catalog.

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Close-up of the floorplan.

Close-up of the floorplan.

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This Lewiston in Dowell, Illinois is in beautiful condition.

This Lewiston in Dowell, Illinois is in pretty good condition, despite some period-inappropriate remodeling. Typically, you don't see fretwork on Neo-Tudors.

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A perfect Lewiston in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

A perfect Lewiston in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

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This Lewiston is in another college town - Champaign.

This Lewiston is in another college town - Champaign, IL.

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An update! Someone from the school has contacted me and reports that there are markings on the lumber, suggesting that this Sears Lewiston was ordered from Montgomery Ward (and fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine). Read the comments below to get the whole scoop. Quite a story!  And quite a house! To learn more about kit homes from Montgomery Ward, click here.

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Second update: Several people have written to say that the house at BGSU is a Sears Colchester. The Colchester and the Lewiston were identical homes, but the Colchester was offered in brick and the Lewiston was a frame house. That’s it. The Colchester’s footprint was 11″ wider and 11″ deeper, because it had brick veneer. Other than this minor difference, these two houses were the same house, with a different name. If you look at the floorplan below, you’ll see it’s a perfect match to the floorplan for the Lewiston.

The Colchester was offered in the 1930 catalog, but it was identical to the Lewiston.

The Colchester was offered in the 1930 catalog, but it was identical to the Lewiston.

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The room layout in the Colchester was identical to the Lewiston. Due to the brick siding, the Colchester was 11 wider and deeper.

The room layout in the Colchester was identical to the Lewiston. Due to the brick siding, the Colchester was 11" wider and deeper.

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Comparison of the Colchester (1930) and the Lewiston (1928).

Comparison of the Colchester (1930) and the Lewiston (1928).

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To learn more about how to identify kit homes, click here.

Please visit this link to sign the petition.

  1. Rachel Shoemaker
    July 27th, 2012 at 14:46 | #1

    Tulsa demolished a Sears Corona about 15 years ago for the expansion of Tulsa University. There very well may have been other kit homes in that area that were also lost. I wish I had know what I know now back then and I would have done something to try to save it.

  2. July 27th, 2012 at 15:10 | #2

    Good point, Rachel. After these houses become nothing more than a memory in a photo album, it’s too late to say, “If only we’d saved it…”

  3. Lily Holmberg
    July 27th, 2012 at 15:22 | #3

    Thank you so much for helping us get the word out about our Popular Culture House, a gorgeous kit home oozing history! The house has been the site of BGSU’s Popular Culture Department since the 1970s! This house means so much to us — it’s been with us since the founding of the discipline of Popular Culture at BGSU!! I hope BGSU President Mazey reconsiders her plan to demolish this incredible and historic structure!

  4. July 27th, 2012 at 15:33 | #4

    Me too, Lily. It’s unconscionable to think that an “institution of higher learning” (supposedly devoted to preserving culture and teaching the hard-won lessons of our country’s history) is seriously considering demolishing this architecturally significant structure.

  5. Myc
    July 27th, 2012 at 15:42 | #5

    A very small correction - while the house shares the Lewiston floorplan, the stamps on the framing inside the house (particularly in the attic) mark it as being sold as a Wardway home through Montgomery-Ward, and mark the manufacture location as Davenport, Iowa.

  6. July 27th, 2012 at 15:54 | #6

    Montgomery Ward did not offer a neo-tudor kit home that matched the design of your house at BGSU.

    Judging from the photos, my first impression is that it’s not a Montgomery Ward kit home, but rather, The Sears Lewiston.

    However, it’s possible that the home’s original owner/builder hired the Montgomery Ward Home Building Division (which was really Gordon Van Tine) to replicate the Sears Lewiston.

    That would have been an expensive proposition, because Montgomery Ward/Gordon Van Tine would have to throw money at an in-house architect to create the house from a picture in a Sears Modern Homes catalog, and that’d be a lot of extra time and trouble.

    And yet, this is NOT an impossible scenario, as we’ve found a handful of examples of that VERY thing occurring, but it’s pretty rare.

    If the lumber in this house at BGSU does say “Davenport, Iowa,” that’s a really interesting piece of evidence. Gordon Van Tine was based in Davenport, and kit homes ordered through Montgomery Ward (and shipped from GVT) were stamped with an imprint similar to what you’re describing.

    Unlike Sears, Montgomery Ward never created a Modern Homes Department. When Montgomery Ward received an order for a kit home, it was turned over to Gordon Van Tine who handled all aspects of the transaction.

    In fact, if you compare the Wardway Homes catalogs to the Gordon Van Tine catalogs, you’ll see that they’re just the same, with a few very minor differences (such as the name of the cover!).

    Has anyone measured the home’s footprint? If not, that should be done asap. I suspect it will be a good match to the Sears Lewiston. And if it is a good match to the Lewiston, then maybe it really is a Sears House ordered through Wards and built by GVT!

    BTW, if this really is a Sears Lewiston contracted to Montgomery Ward and fulfilled by Gordon Van Tine, I’d say this little Neo-Tudor just got a lot more interesting!!

    Save the Montgomery Ward/Gordon Van Tine/Sears Lewiston!

    If it really is a Montgomery Ward-Sears kit house, it’s a rare bird indeed.

  7. Myc
    July 27th, 2012 at 16:15 | #7

    I will definitely get up in the attic tomorrow and get a picture of the markings on the beams then!

  8. July 27th, 2012 at 16:18 | #8

    Please do. And I’d *LOVE* to have dimensions of the home’s exterior footprint, and room dimensions on the first floor. This would help so much!

  9. Karen Craigo
  10. July 27th, 2012 at 17:23 | #10

    Hi Karen,

    Did you see my email? The Colchester was the Lewiston dressed up in brick. Same house, different siding, and Sears gave them a different name.

    Rose

  11. Karen Craigo
    July 27th, 2012 at 17:53 | #11

    Thanks for this valuable info, Rose!

  12. Marilyn Collins
    July 27th, 2012 at 18:02 | #12

    I signed the petition. I hope it can be saved…or at least moved.

    Some people don’t realize that brick houses can be moved.

    My husband and I are currently working on an old house we had moved to our land. It was originally a brick house, built from bricks made from mud from the Brazos River.

    The house was built from lumber left over from the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and taken by barge up the Brazos to a ranch called Sienna Plantation. It was the ranch foreman’s house for many years and later a Catholic retreat.

    We put it up on piers and made sort of a low country house out of it. So old houses can have a new life, if someone will take the time.

  13. Becky
    July 27th, 2012 at 18:32 | #13

    @Sears Homes

    I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into the house for the past week.

    Everything that’s been found in regards to the house supports what Myc said about it being a Wardway.

    Yet the architecture clearly matches a Sears model. It’s all very confusing!

    I did find a bit of information that may or may not be helpful. The last resident of the home just before it was sold to our school indicated in a letter written around 1985 that she and her husband rented the house directly from Montgomery Ward in 1936.

    It appears that the original owner deeded the house to a “Larrabee Trust” earlier that same year. It was this trust that sold the structure to the state in 1937.

    Being that so much time has passed, it’s nearly impossible to find information about this trust, but I was able to find that they were located in Chicago (and happened to be named after the street where the Montgomery Ward corporate offices were located).

    What I suspect is that they may have been a partner of Montgomery Ward in regards to mortgaging homes or foreclosing them.

    As an expert in kit homes, do you have any information that might shed a light on this?

  14. Erin
    July 27th, 2012 at 18:45 | #14

    This is fascinating!! Thank you so much, Rose, for your expertise! I hope the BGSU President, Dr. Mary Ellen Mazey, changes her mind about demolishing this house.

    What an important piece of American history!

  15. Ray
    July 27th, 2012 at 20:20 | #15

    Rose,

    I’d like to thank you for discussing our building and our cause on your website. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

    I did get some pictures of the markings from the attic this afternoon, and I will gladly find a way to get them to you.

  16. Rachel Eldridge
    July 27th, 2012 at 20:26 | #16

    I was a student at BGSU in 1993-1995. I wrote a draft National Register nomination in 1995.

    I went up in the attic and saw that the rafters are stamped Montgomery Ward and Company, Davenport IA. I agree that it bears a great resemble to the Lewiston and it was commonly believed to be a Sears house before my discovery.

  17. July 27th, 2012 at 20:35 | #17

    Well, here’s where it gets so curious. Judging from the photo, this house on your campus is a Sears Lewiston.

    I’ve seen several dozen Sears Lewistons in my travels, and this certainly has all the earmarks of a Sears Lewiston. But if the lumber is stamped “Montgomery Ward,” then it’s obviously not a Sears House. However…

    As the co-author of “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward,” I can authoritatively state that Montgomery Ward never offered a design that was even close to the Sears Lewiston.

    Did the original owner order the blueprints from Sears and then order the lumber (and building materials) from Wards?

    That’s one possibility.

    It’s more likely that WHOMEVER built this house (and I would love to know who that was!!) had some connection to Montgomery Ward, and sent in a picture of the Sears Lewiston (perhaps sent in the catalog page), and said, “Hey, can y’all make this house for me?”

    I suspect that *that’s* the most-likely scenario.

  18. July 27th, 2012 at 20:48 | #18

    @Becky
    Becky, it’s possible that the home’s original owner financed the Wardway Home through Montgomery Ward. (Like Sears, Wards offered generous terms and good rates.)

    If the home’s original owner did obtain a mortgage from Wards, and then lost the house to foreclosure, that could explain the scenario you’re describing.

    Again, I would LOVE to know more about the original builder of this house. Has anyone done a title search on this house?

  19. Rachel Shoemaker
    July 27th, 2012 at 23:56 | #19

    Virgil Harry Taylor was born 28 Feb 1900 in Latty Township, Paulding, Ohio and died 19 Oct 1971 in Broward, Florida, United States . I found his 1918 WWI draft reg. which lists him as a student. I can not find him in the 1940 census, yet.

    I found him in 1930 living with his folks at 128 N Church Str in Bowling Green. In 1930 Virgil lists his occupation as advertising manager for the Sentinel Tribune.

    His father was the deputy treasurer for the county at the time. I see no connections at this time to Montgomery Ward.

    I have a large collection of Sears, Wardway and Gordon Van Tine catalogs. I find nothing that resembles this house other than the Sears Colchester/Lewiston. At this point I agree with Rosemary.

    I find this VERY interesting and I sincerely hope that the university will not raze this structure. It could very well be more important than what we know!

  20. Debbie
    July 28th, 2012 at 17:02 | #20

    The house in WI is so cute! Really nice photo. I hope it looks just as nice on the inside. It’s obvious that someone loves it very much.

  21. July 29th, 2012 at 09:58 | #21

    @Becky Wards owned a company called the Larrabee Building Corporation which built their HQ in Chicago in 1929.

  22. Deb sitter
    July 30th, 2012 at 19:29 | #22

    Save it. It’s beautiful and part of Ohio’s history.

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